Ten years of reeling out

Since its inception, Kingston’s queer film festival has grown a lot, reaching out to community

Magical and musical, Tim Gustafson’s Were the World Mine will feature at reelout’s opening Gala tonight.
Magical and musical, Tim Gustafson’s Were the World Mine will feature at reelout’s opening Gala tonight.

Eleven years ago an overwhelming number of people crammed into in the back of the now-defunct Kingston gay bar 477 to watch seven short films that explored queer themes and issues. What began as a humble gathering eventually grew into the reelout film and video festival, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event is the largest queer film festival in the province.

“I don’t think that when we started this, 10 years down the road it would be going this strong,” Marney McDiarmid, one of the founding members of the festival, said. “I also don’t know if we would have started had we known how much work it was. But I think that there was a demand for people to see more accurate and complex representations of themselves.”

More than a decade later, the need for a festival like reelout remains.

“From working for this festival and traveling around to other queer film festivals—it seems to work,” this year’s festival director Carla Henderson said.

“Film is one of those mediums that’s really accessible and it’s getting easier and easier to produce films especially for marginalized subcultures to use the medium. But there still aren’t a lot of outlets for these artists to get paid.”

The paying part is where reelout comes in.

“It’s nice to have your work seen, but it’s also nice for the artists to be compensated,” Henderson said. “It also works because everyone loves to go see film—we relate to film. For the queer community, we don’t get to see ourselves reflected in the mainstream medium. It’s a really great community-building opportunity as well as an opportunity to learn about different queer groups.” The program this year offers a diverse set of films under the umbrella of queer content. “Overall in the program, I don’t think there is a common thread but one of our big focuses this year [has been] where reelout has been and where we’re going,” Henderson said. “Kingston Still Burning is a short documentary about the drag culture that existed in the mid-90s. It was a lost piece of Kingston history.”

The festival went through great lengths to find the relic and will be showing the 15-year-old film in this year’s festival, along with many other diverse pieces.

“We really put a stress on diversity. We try to have a representation of as many different queer cultures. We also try to stress Canadian and independent film.” Reelout is also expanding in new ways to reach an even broader audience.

“This year we launched the reelout in schools project. We went into a dozen high schools and showed queer film and video and did some anti-homophobia workshops,” Henderson said. “Expanding into education and community work is definitely an aim of the festival.” In its desire to expand, the festival is still met with some challenges.

“We’re usually pretty successful getting funding and we continue to be successful. Something like the Kingston Canadian Film Festival does tend to get a lot more sponsorship. Some businesses are afraid of our festival reaching a smaller audience. I think that’s always going to be a challenge,” Henderson said.

But it’s a misconception that the festival is only of interest to a smaller audience due to its queer themes. Festival organizers point out the festival is a celebration of culture and maintains its resonance throughout the community.

“People of all different backgrounds can see a little bit of themselves in these films,” McDiarmid said. “Maybe you’ll never have to come out to your family, but we can all identify with family secrets or familial issues.”

reelout runs until Feb. 8. For a full program guide please go to reeloutmedia.wordpress.com

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